Third Sunday of Lent – Sister Mary Ann Cook, SNDdeN

Feb 28, 2024 | Gospel Reflections

March 3, 2024

John 4: 5-42

Today’s Liturgy of the Word offers two options. Here, we’ll be looking at the Gospel assigned for a liturgy with people preparing to be baptized at the Easter Vigil. It’s John’s account of Jesus’s encounter with a Samaritan woman as he sits by Jacob’s well near a town called Sychar, while his disciples go for food. He is hot, tired, and thirsty. The woman comes to draw water, not in the cool of early morning (the normal time), but in the noonday heat – probably to avoid being seen and spurned as a woman of ill repute. Her encounter with Jesus is life-changing. For us, it can serve as a guide for “going out to the peripheries,” bridging differences, and engaging in genuine mutual encounter that looks beyond another’s appearance “into a person’s heart” (Cf. 1 Samuel 16:7).

Jesus is, as it were, in foreign territory. First, he is a Jew in Samaria. More provocative yet, he is in “Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph” and the mountain which Samaritans professed to be the holy dwelling place of God, Mount Gerizim, the center of their temple worship. Jews, by contrast, worshipped the living God on Mount Zion, in the holy city Jerusalem. In their eyes, the Samaritans were heretics. (One is reminded of liturgical disputes dividing the church today!)

Here, and elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus seems to challenge the Jews’ stereotypical view of Samaritan. True, he tells his disciples not to visit Gentile or Samaritan towns when he sends them out on a “test run” to share the Good News (Mt 10: 5-6). But in several other accounts, his words or deeds call attention to the dignity, humanity and goodness of Samaritans.

The Good Samaritan shows compassion to the naked man along the road, in contrast to the Jewish priest and Levite, who both pass by, “on the other side.” (Lk 10: 30-37) Of the 10 lepers Jesus heals, only one returns to give thanks to God – and that one is a Samaritan (Lk 17: 11-19).
When James and John want to “call down fire” on a Samaritan town that denies them hospitality because they are enroute to Jerusalem, Jesus rebukes the two and quietly moves on to another village (Lk 9: 51-56), biding his time.

In today’s gospel, when the disciples come back with food, they are shocked to see Jesus talking not just to a Samaritan but a Samaritan woman — and that in public! Holding their tongues, they urge him to eat. “I have food to eat of which you do not know,” he says. “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.” Might his next words have been spoken as he watched the woman returning with many other Samaritans in tow?

. . . . I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest. The reaper is already receiving payment and gathering crops for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together. For here the saying is verified that ‘One sows, and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work.”

John records that many of those the women brought to Jesus began to believe because of her testimony, and invited Jesus to stay a while. He remains with them for two days, and many others also began to believe: “. . . We have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”

Reflecting on this Gospel at the Synod in Rome last October, the Dominican Timothy Radcliffe remarked that the Samaritan woman had “become a preacher” even before Jesus’ disciples, and concluded: “Our role as priests is often to support those who have already begun to reap the harvest before we even wake up!” A well-taken “plug” for the role of women in the church today!

Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman exemplifies his way of seeing into people’s hearts — who they really are, with all their ambiguities, goodness, failures, hungers, hurts, dignity, shame . . . . It shows him making himself vulnerable to the woman’s “gut responses” — her rebuke when he asks for a drink. her change of topic when he exposes her questionable marital status, the pride she takes in her cultural and religious heritage. He names. bridges and transcends their differences: “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. . . . The hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth . . . . . God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” Finally, hearing her firm conviction that the Messiah, ”the one called Christ,” will come and “tell us everything,” Jesus reveals his true identity: “I am he, the one speaking with you.”

Radcliffe commends their genuine, mutual, human, life-giving encounter: So many people feel excluded or marginalized in our Church because we have slapped abstract labels on them: divorced and remarried, gay people, polygamous people, refugees, Africans . . . . But . . . hatred cannot be sustained in a truly personal encounter. If you glimpse [a person’s] humanity, you will see the one who creates them and sustains them in being, whose name is I AM.
He adds:
The foundation of our loving but unpossessive encounter with each other is surely our encounter with the Lord, each at our own well, with our failures and weakness and desires. He knows us as we are and sets us free to encounter each other with a love that liberates and does not control. In the silence of prayer, we are liberated.

 

 

John 4: 5-42

Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon.
A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” —For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.— Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

• Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.” The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one speaking with you.”

• At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, but still no one said, “What are you looking for?” or “Why are you talking with her?” The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?” They went out of the town and came to him. Meanwhile, the disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” So the disciples said to one another, “Could someone have brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work. Do you not say, ‘In four months the harvest will be here’? I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest. The reaper is already receiving payment and gathering crops for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together. For here the saying is verified that ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work.”

• Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me everything I have done.” When the Samaritans came to him, they invited him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. Many more began to believe in him because of his word, and they said to the woman, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”

The Gospel of the Lord

 

Meet Sister Mary Ann Cook, SNDdeN

Sister Mary Ann Cook entered Notre Dame in 1954, at Ilchester, Maryland. Her ministries include a brief stint in parochial-school teaching before she was missioned to the English Department at Trinity College (now Trinity Washington University). Exploring major works of Western literature with undergraduates left her with a particular love for poetry and drama. Serving as Trinity’s Academic Dean taught her the value of interdisciplinary learning, and engendered strong interest in curriculum- development and organizational planning. In 1978, , she began working in an innovative post-conciliar adult faith-formation program called Education for Parish Service (EPS), designed to equip lay Catholics for fuller participation in the Church’s life and mission. Its eight substantive foundational courses in theology, scripture and evangelization carried CEUs, and were taught by faculty from nearby universities. EPS grew into a network of eight programs serving five U.S. dioceses and the Vicariate of Rome. Over time, its design was picked up by independent affiliates in London, North Dakota, California and Wisconsin. Over its 33-year life cycle, Sister Mary Ann served as a facilitator, lecturer, academic-program director and, eventually, chief executive officer. She counts her EPS experience as a major influence on her own faith development, her work with Associates of Notre Dame and her appreciation of the church’s rich diversity. Sister Mary Ann’s formal ministries and SND community responsibilities included “working visits” to England, Scotland, France, Belgium, Italy and the Holy Land, as well as opportunities to participate in international meetings of SNDs from across the world . Now a retiree at Mount Notre Dame in Cincinnati (OH), she is exploring ways of drawing “new treasures as well as old” from her storehouse in service of others (Mt 13: 52). God is indeed good!